Sword Art Online

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by Justin Jasso (@jjasso007)

For many years, people played their favorite role-playing games (RPGs)  on consoles and personal computers. Final Fantasy had, and still has, one of the biggest followings among gamers and  there are numerous titles to date on various consoles. Others such as  the Tales games, Star Ocean, Xenosaga and many more are implanted into the hearts of hardcore role-playing  gamers alike. Then out came the massively multiplayer online role-playing  game (MMORPG). The RPG expanded and gamers could play live with others  around the world, accomplishing quests and missions in various jobs  across various platforms. So what is the next step? Sword Art Online, a new anime from Aniplex, looks at virtual MMORPG where the players,  with virtual reality gear, are thrust into the world of the game as  the character they created. What more could a gamer want than to actually  live their gaming experience?

In 2022, a new MMORPG is released called Sword Art Online. The game uses nerve gear, a type of helmet that  utilizes the five senses and thrusts the player into the virtual world  of the game where they play out their characters while logged in. Kirito,  a high school boy, was in the beta testing of the game, so he has a  good feeling going into its official release. However, when players  log on for the first time, they soon discover that they are unable to  logout. If they are unable to logout, they won’t “wake up”  in the real world and are trapped in the virtual reality of the game.

The players are informed by game creator Kayaba  Akihiko that if they want to be able to log out from the game, they  must make it up to the games 100th floor and defeat the final  boss. The catch? Should their characters die in the game, they also  die in real life. Now the players must form guilds and alliances, level  up, master skills and crafts, and strategize as they battle their way  to the 100th floor in hopes of making it back alive.

Anyone who has played a MMORPG at some point in  their life will truly enjoy this anime. Most of the aspects which make  MMORPGs what they are just happen to be displayed in some way, shape  or form throughout the series. From working on weapon skills to being  able to dual-wield two blades, having certain armor or weapons which  give attack and defense bonuses, working on smithing and cooking to  raise skills to be able to make better food, armor and weapons, it’s  all here. They also go about forming parties to level, strategize about  how certain bosses need to be attacked and what jobs are needed for  the fights… and with the success of World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XI, you find yourself laughing throughout the episodes  because these are things you’ve experienced in game (killing a toad  enemy and getting toad leg drops for instance). It’s all here!

Now, what about the story? The series mainly follows  Kirito, who was a beta-tester, and has a leg up on most of the other  players. However, those that were in the beta testing aren’t generally  looked upon favorably so he tends to stay by himself and solo. He meets  many people along the way and is always helpful, gaining him a good  reputation. He initially pairs with another lone player named Asuna  who, later on, becomes a vice-commander for the strongest guild. It’s  over a year into the game that these two begin doing more together and  realize there is a love between them. But how does a relationship in  a game work when real life is a logout away?

Thus, one of the biggest questions of the series  arises. If you are stuck in a virtual world without much hope of escaping  anytime soon, do you try to pursue that escape or do you make a life  for yourself and be happy in this virtual world? Kirito and Asuna have  this connection, this love that was found on a game, and they are well  off at the same time; do they want to leave that where they are truly  happy and able to be with each other? And the higher they go, in terms  of floors completed in the game, more and more players are dying during  the boss fights, dwindling their numbers. Will they ever really be able  to beat the game or will they just die trying and never have happiness?

Sword Art Online is easily one of the best anime I’ve seen and  definitely in my top five all-time favorites. From the connections formed  between players, and the basic human emotions, needs and psychology  we go through with those we meet and when others depend on us, it’s  hard not to invest in the story and the characters from the beginning.  It is even harder to just watch one episode and turn it off as you want  to continue the story and see where everything leads. It isn’t often  that an anime comes along that is so complete in all aspects of storytelling,  but Sword Art Online manages just that. It provides a journey of action  and adventure, love and relationships, life and death which is unrivaled  in anime and most films.  Sword Art Online is a story that will stand the passage of time  and join the ranks of Evangelion, Spirited Away, Grave of the Fireflies and all those truly great anime.

Sword Art Online is available on Hulu.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


    2 Comments

  1. bunnyFebruary 5th, 2013 at 6:11 am

    I did like SAO but some episode are boring.. I’ll give it 7/10 😀

  2. James WhiteOctober 26th, 2013 at 8:08 pm

    I have heard and read a lot of complaints about SAO – that it was too slow or that it was more focused on relationships, etc. I really liked how the relationship between the main characters was dealt with (trying to not just sprinkle my comments with spoilers, and almost not caring) – it seems pretty rare in anime or manga to have relationships that just work, that are not filled with crisis that is supposed to drive the story, that are filled with love and respect. Everything seems to be either a high-school romance, the guy is a porn-dog, the girl is a witch or a killer or a ghost, or the entire plot is built around stupid misunderstandings that could be resolved if the characters weren’t so shy or reticent or something and just spent 37 seconds talking.

    This was certainly my favorite series for 2012, and is at least in my top 10 (well maybe 20 – I’ve watched a LOT of anime) of all time. But I read the light novels before there was ever a whisper of an anime, which I guess made everything more special. Now if they will just animate the rest of the novels…

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